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Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Holocaust survivor Wiesel returns Hungarian honour

BUDAPEST — Holocaust survivor and Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel has returned Hungary's highest honour in protest at the "whitewashing" of its dark wartime past, according to a letter published Tuesday.
Wiesel said "it has become increasingly clear that Hungarian authorities are encouraging the whitewashing of tragic and criminal episodes in Hungary's past", in the letter published in the Magyar Narancs weekly.

The 83-year-old said these included the "the wartime Hungarian governments' involvement in the deportation and murder of hundreds of thousands of its Jewish citizens. I do not wish to be associated in any way with such activities".
Romanian-born Wiesel, who has written prolifically about his wartime experiences and who is of Hungarian descent, was presented with Hungary's highest award, the Order of Merit, Grand Cross, by president Ferenc Madl in 2004.
His letter was addressed to the speaker of parliament Laszlo Kover following what the 1986 Nobel peace prize winner called Kover's "outrageous" attendance of a ceremony honouring Romanian-born author Jozsef Nyiro last month.
Nyiro supported Hungary's 1920-1944 dictator and Hitler ally Miklos Horthy as well as Ferenc Szalasi, the leader of the brutal Arrow Cross regime installed in power by the Nazis after the ouster of Horthy in 1944.
Romania thwarted plans for a reburial of Nyiro's remains but a religious commemoration did take place that was attended by Kover as well as by Gabor Vona, leader of Hungary's far-right Jobbik party.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has come under fire abroad for a raft of legislation that critics say is eroding democracy, has presided over something of a rehabilitation of Horthy.
Last month a square in a park in the town of Gyomro was renamed in Horthy's honour, a life-size statue has been erected in a village and in the city of Debrecen a marble plaque honouring him was restored at his old school.
Anti-Semitic writers like Albert Wass and Nyiro himself have also been reintroduced into the curriculum for schools, and activists say that under Orban anti-Jewish feeling has grown.
Last month well-known actor Jozsef Szekhelyi was denied participation in a cultural festival in the northern town of Eger, with a participant in a cultural board meeting recorded as calling him a "filthy Jew".
A few weeks later 90-year-old Rabbi Jozsef Schweitzer was verbally assaulted on the street when a stranger came up to him and said "I hate all Jews!"
In March Akos Kertesz, an 80-year-old prize-winning Jewish Hungarian writer, applied for political asylum in Canada.
"I hope that one day I will be able to return to a democratic, tolerant, humane Hungary," Kertesz wrote in a letter to the media.
The government publicly condemned the incidents and has taken concrete steps in the past to combat extremism.
In 2010 it banned the paramilitary organization Magyar Garda and earlier in the month a young man in Nagykanizsa received an 18-month suspended sentence for Holocaust denial.
Yet no public condemnation was heard when two deputies from the ruling Fidesz party attended a ball last month to raise money for another statue in Budapest.
Peter Feldmajer, head of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, said that there were "hundreds of incidents of verbal and sometimes physical abuse every week against members of our community because of their ethnic background".
"The problem is with the law. There are no laws against public hate speech," he told AFP. "The emphasis is now on freedom of the speech and not on protecting the dignity of people."

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